Football: Everton drop out at School of Science

Everton 0 Arsenal 2
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The Independent Online
Everton supporters do not naturally empathise with Kevin Keegan yet one of his phrases keeps coming to mind. Not "I'd really love it if we beat them" - they would really love it if they could put one over anyone at the moment - but the former Newcastle manager's "it wasn't like this in the brochure".

Flicking through the glossy pages, Joe Royle's team ought to be challenging for the championship now on the back of an FA Cup win in 1995 and a near miss in the Premiership last season. At the very least the small print promised a playing curriculum issued from the School of Science.

The truth has underperformed the promise. It is dog eat dog of war out there and although Everton delivered the first part of the bargain they are now being regularly mauled. They have won only once in 10 Premiership matches and a golden scenario has been replaced by the cold image of the mid-winter, mid-table team which plummets like a stone.

There was bewilderment and unhappiness at Goodison Park and not just in people within the ground. "Have these to drown your sorrows," the woman serving toffees to the Toffees at the newsagents opposite the main stand said sadly. "I've never seen so many people leave at half past three before."

Another Everton supporter was equally bemused. "You can't give two-goal starts to bad teams never mind good sides," he said. "I don't think Arsenal can believe how easily they've taken the points without playing particularly well themselves." The man bleeding blue on to the carpet was Royle himself.

It was a faultless assessment of a faulty afternoon. Everton have under- performed this season but even regular attenders found it hard to remember worse. Without Andrei Kanchelskis to slice defences the only tactic appears to be the hoof to Duncan Ferguson and you have to go a long way to find opponents who have not seen that one.

It would help if Ferguson was unsheathing his claymore but the Scottish striker looks as disillusioned as the supporters with the service he is getting. Like a dodgy lift, he goes up but whether he is going to reach his destination is debateable.

His performance appeared more supine when it was held up against Arsenal's front runners. In windy conditions (which were not helped by the fussiness of the referee Paul Danson), Ian Wright was his usual firecracker while Dennis Bergkamp was so smooth the surface of a mirror has the undulations of the Pennines by comparison.

It was not hard to find a candidate for throwing himself off the Dutchman's highest peak. In the second minute David Unsworth thundered into a tackle on the touchline only to find Bergkamp had gone. A rhino has the luxury of giving up chasing a fly but the England Under-21 defender had to keep charging and it was a mercy when he was substituted at the interval.

Inevitably he was at fault with the first goal, misjudging a long ball, to allow Bergkamp a free run at goal. On Saturday, however, Everton culprits rarely came singularly and Neville Southall will not want to watch replays of the shot that went under his body.

There was also collective calamity about the second goal as Dave Watson and Earl Barrett allowed Wright a pocket of space in the area. Give him time 10 yards out and the defending team might as well line-up for the kick-off and he duly scored his 25th goal of the season.

After that the injury-weakened Gunners waited for a reaction that, Graham Stuart's shot against a post apart, was lame. "They challenged us to break them down and we lacked either the power or the guile to do it," Royle said. "It was a poor performance, not good enough. We have to get ourselves right because we're looking over our shoulder now."

Goals: Bergkamp (20) 0-1; Wright (26) 0-2.

Everton (4-3-2-1): Southall; Barrett, Watson, Unsworth (Short, h/t), Phelan; Parkinson, Thomsen, Speed; Barmby (Branch, h/t), Stuart; Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Hottiger, Rideout, Speare (gk).

Arsenal (3-5-1-1): Lukic; Keown, Garde (Morrow, h/t), Marshall; Dixon, Platt, Vieira, Hughes, Winterburn; Bergkamp; Wright. Substitutes not used: Selley, Shaw, Rankin, Harper (gk).

Bookings: Everton: Phelan, Parkinson, Thomsen, Speed. Arsenal: Dixon, Winterburn, Wright, Garde.

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).

Man of the match: Bergkamp.

Attendance: 36,980.

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